At the end of June I shared my experience of watching a summer day dawn on the landscape, while conducting quail and grassland songbird surveys in one of our Quail Focus Areas in northern Missouri. On these June mornings, I join dozens of volunteers in seven states piloting a national effort to inventory habitat conditions and bird populations within designated quail focus areas.
This national pilot project is coordinated through the National Bobwhite Conservation Initiative. These seven states are testing a combination of bird and habitat monitoring that will eventually be used by the 25 states with bobwhite quail. The aim is to tie habitat improvements to bird populations in a coordinated multi-state effort. These surveys are taking place in designated quail focus areas (QFA) where agencies and partners are focusing efforts to restore quail habitat. Some QFAs will be primarily public land, while others will primarily be private land.
In Missouri’s case, we have chosen 5200 acres of private land in northwest Missouri where quail habitat management has been intensified through incentives and assistance to landowners by Missouri Department of Conservation staff and Quail Forever volunteers since 2005. Private landowners in the QFA have installed habitat improvements such as15 miles of edgefeathering, over 770 acres of quail-friendly grass and wildflower plantings, and used prescribed burning on 200 acres each year. These practices were implemented through USDA Farm Bill programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program and through funding provided by the 2C Chapter of Quail Forever and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Technical assistance was provided to landowners by the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Our surveys indicate over 3 times more male quail were calling in our focus area than the nearby control. There were also more of the key declining grassland songbirds like dickcissels, eastern meadowlarks and field sparrows in the focus area. These were not all of the songbirds calling in the area, but key species we are looking for in our focus area. We have always been confident that quail habitat management improves songbird populations, and this survey provides the evidence.
During our survey we had several listening points where there were so many quail and songbirds calling that it was hard to keep track. Looking around these points, it was evident that habitat improvements had taken place. But even within the focus area, we saw the absence of quail and songbirds at those few survey points surrounded by fescue or Reed’s canarygrass.
Habitat is the key!